Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Family stays strong through life or death stroke experience – Local 5 –

ANKENY – Here are some tough odds: nearly half the people who get married, wind up getting divorced. About one in four people will experience a stroke in their lifetime. One couple is defying both of those odds. Relying on their vows and staying together through the toughest of times. 

Nicole and Joe Paulsen share a special kind of love. They met in 2002 through mutual friends and tied the knot a few years later. 

With an 8 year wedding anniversary on the horizon, the couple reflects on their vows. The last few months proving to be the most turbulent in their marriage, because Joe is recovering from a severe stroke. 

But the family of three are getting through it together, in sickness and in strength. 

This story starts in November of 2018. Joe was feeling completely fine, until his health took an abrupt turn. “He seemed more tired and he seemed a little bit forgetful and he was having severe headaches and so we kind of took that as a stress induced migraine from work,” says Nicole, Joe’s wife. 

The 36-year-old started taking medicine for his symptoms. That brought him temporary relief, but a few days later Joe went into a downward spiral. 

On November 13th he collapsed at home. His family rushed him to the hospital. “I was just trying to hold my composure because I didn’t know they had to intubate him.”

An MRI revealed a golf ball sized tumor on his pituitary gland. Doctors think by the size of it, it had been growing for at least 15 years. “It was just very scary because we didn’t know what was going on.”

During Joe’s brain surgery doctors inserted a shunt to drain the built up spinal fluids—and to relieve pressure on his brain.The operation was a success, and the tumor was found to be benign, but Joe didn’t immediately wake up from surgery. 

He had suffered a serious stroke. 

“The doctors were basically like, he’s not going to survive it’s fatal. Or he would be locked in meaning that he would be conscious but he would not have any control over his bodily functions.”

Just like those moments you see in a movie, a miracle happened. 

“All of a sudden he started following simple commands. Wiggling his toes, giving thumbs up and I was like I’m not doing anything. I’m going to wait and ride this out and see what happens and 5 months later he’s still here.”

It’s been a roller coaster of emotions for the Paulsen family. “With every step that we have accomplished since he started progressing I just keep calling him my Superman.”

Now, Superman has flown to On With Life in Ankeny. Where he’s learning how to re-train his body and mind. 

On With Life Occupational therapist Sam Williams says, “I would say and I know Joe would agree with me is his balance coordination just because of the type of injury that he had and where it’s at those are the two things that have been most affected and that we are working on.”

But he’s is steadily progressing. Not only does he have his family supporting him. But a team of physical and occupational therapists with him every step of the way.

“He’s come so far already in the short amount of time he’s been here. I know he’s really motivated to get back to all those real life things. It’s cool, it’s rewarding as a therapist selfishly,” says Williams. 

Looking back and reflecting on what’s happened to Joe, the family is using their experience to help others. “With the strokes I know everyone was very shocked because he was so young to have a stroke. Well with Luke Perry who died from a massive stroke it just shows it can happen at any age. It can happen to  newborn on up so it’s just being more mindful of looking our for the sings.”

Those warning clues are easy to spot but can often get looked over. “If your face is drooping, if you arm is lower than the other, if you speech starts slurring, that is critical time for you to contact 911 to get yourself to a hospital because those are signs of a stroke.”

In the short amount of time since Joe’s stroke, Nicole is humbled to see him transform in front of her eyes. “You have to be positive and you have to keep pushing forward instead of just thinking about all the stuff that used to be. This is going to be the new normal. And Joe is still continuing to progress and it’s going to be a long road and I am prepared for that. And that’s what we promised each other when we got married.”

Against all odds and in sickness and in strength, this is just the beginning for Joe. “You are Joe, You can do it.”

The Paulsen family were young and healthy and didn’t have life insurance when tragedy struck. Health insurance has covered some of it, but the expenses are adding up. Especially now that they are trying to make their home ADA accessible for Joe’s wheelchair. They have set up a GoFundMe attached here. 



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